More than half of West Midland organisations which rent commercial property are still not aware that they are responsible for complying with asbestos regulations four years after they were introduced, according to a local property expert.
Shilpa Unarkat, an associate in the commercial property department at Black Country law firm George Green LLP, says that non-compliance with the regulations which came into force in May 2004, can cost time and money when it comes to moving premises and can result in a hefty fine and even a prison term.
“Even though they do not own premises, because tenants have control they have to comply with the regulations which impose a duty to investigate, monitor and manage asbestos in buildings,” said Mrs Unarkat, who is based in George Green’s Cradley Heath offices.
According to Mrs Unarkat, tenants have to have an independent assessment as to whether asbestos is, or is liable to be, present in their building, and follow up any recommendations.
“Even if the results were negative, the tenant is obliged to keep records of the conclusions of the assessment and any review. And, if there is any reason at all to suspect the assessment is no longer valid, it must be repeated,” Mrs Unarkat added.
The lack of an asbestos report most often comes to light when a premises is changing hands, as it forms part of the pre-contract enquiries, when its absence will slow down a transaction and be an additional cost for one or both parties.
Mrs Unarkat said: “We recently advised a client on the acquisition of a semi-derelict property against which a bank refused to lend money without an asbestos report. This slowed down the deal and cost our client the price of the report before it completed the deal, which it had not foreseen.
“Once tenants take occupation of a premises, they are obliged to comply with all statutory obligations in relation to its use and occupation of the premises, including the obligations under the asbestos regulations.
“Reports can cost around £400 to £500 for a small industrial unit, but although a further business burden, it is vital to get it done, as tenants should supply a report to anyone undertaking work on the premises and ensure that the workers and their employees are safeguarded.
“There are substantial penalties for non-compliance with the regulations, which is a criminal offence, punishable in the Magistrates Court with a fine of up to £20,000 and/or imprisonment for up to six months and, where there is a more serious breach, in the Crown Court, by an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment of up to two years.
“Personal liability can also attach to directors and officers, where breaches have been committed by their company with their consent, connivance or neglect.
“Owners and occupiers should be especially aware that even derelict or vacant premises and warehouses with no person in occupation still require a report,” she warned.